Tennis is considered the most difficult racket sport to pick up and master. Julian Hwang talks to Institute members to find out what draws them to this highly demanding sport
Photography by Anthony Tung
Kenneth Kwan trains at the tennis courts in the Hong Kong University's Stanley Ho Sports Centre
Kenneth Kwan’s grip on his tennis racket tightens as he readies his stance and scans the court for the ideal spot to deliver his serve. In an instant, he lobs the ball high above his head and unleashes a “kick serve” that arcs over the net and dives explosively into the opposing service box. “A kick serve is an effective way to keep my opponent behind,” explains Kwan, who is the Head of Compliance at UniCard Solution. “It’s also not easy to return.”
Kwan, a Hong Kong Institute of CPAs member, first experienced tennis at seven years old when his father brought him to a tennis court. He observed his father play and quickly became intrigued by the sport, and by 11, he began taking lessons. Since then, tennis has been a part of Kwan’s life for over 26 years.
“I chose to play tennis because I wanted a sport that includes human interaction,” says Kwan. Where there is interaction, there’s also competitiveness and strategic thinking. “You need to be quick in observing and analysing your opponent’s weaknesses,” he says. “Focus on hitting the ball to where your opponent is weak to give yourself an advantage.”
Kwan’s pursuit of interaction and strategy building was what led him to become a doubles player. “Where singles tennis is more focused on personal skill, doubles generally has faster game speed and is more reliant on good team chemistry and strategy,” he explains. For the team sport, both players need to understand and play around each other’s strengths and weaknesses to maximize scoring potential.
Also a member of the Institute’s Tennis Interest Group, Kwan plays against both fellow CPAs and other professionals, such as through the Recreation and Sports Club for Hong Kong Professional Bodies in November 2016, which featured teams of people from other industries and backgrounds including doctors, dentists, lawyers and surveyors. “Being able to find CPAs who share a common interest as well as create business relations is a great perk of being in an interest group,” says Kwan.
When asked about tennis’ popularity in Hong Kong, Kwan believes it stems from the increased number of development and training programmes offered over the past five years – especially those targeted at participants under 18. “In the past, when we were competing and we saw that the opponents were younger players, you knew you were going to have fun,” recalls Kwan. “Now, those players are absolute terrors to play against because of how good they are.”
“A player who doesn’t perform well in the beginning but stays in the present has a chance of clawing back a win.”
Like most sports, tennis is a sport that requires rigorous training and scrutiny in order to improve. “After making a list of your weaknesses, it’s important to focus on the most crucial weakness first before trying to fix the rest,” recommends Kwan, “because sometimes the biggest weakness is what causes some of the other ones.” For example, he adds, if a player is having trouble timing shots and also has a tendency to hit the ball too hard and out of bounds, focusing on adjusting their swing speed first may inadvertently correct their swing strength as well.
In addition, he recommends playing point-by-point and not getting caught up on mistakes. “Once the current point is over, focus on the next one and never think back,” he explains. “Especially in the professional scene, a player who doesn’t perform well in the beginning but stays in the present has a chance of clawing back a win.”
“When you are playing, you are in the zone,” says Tommy Wong when asked about the feelings associated with competitive tennis. “When in the zone, you don’t have time to think about things unrelated to the match.”
Wong, the Proprietor of Tommy W. K. Wong & Co. Certified Public Accountants (Practising), discovered the thrills of tennis when he was about 10 years old. “At first, I treated it like just a regular sport for maintaining good health,” says Wong. But as he played more and experienced the adrenaline of playing a match that was down to a single point, something sparked within him.
“I found competitive tennis to be enticing, especially when you are able to break your limit and push yourself further than expected,” describes Wong, who began training at the Hong Kong Tennis Association.
Wong, an Institute member, also enjoys playing doubles competitively. At a Grade A league competition for the Hong Kong Tennis Association in 2013, Wong and his playing partner scored a nine-to-zero victory. The grade of a tennis competition or tournament correspond to the average skill of the players participating, with Grade A usually featuring veteran and well-seasoned players. With the introduction of a teammate and another opponent, the sport becomes more dynamic, explains Wong. “Developing a good strategy with proper planning between you and your partner becomes much more important.”
For the Institute’s Tennis Interest Group, Wong and his fellow CPA playing partner Kenneth Kwan have also achieved great results together. At an invitational tennis competition in 2016 organized by the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong, the duo were able to clinch the Institute’s first victory in doubles tennis.
“I found competitive tennis to be enticing, especially when you are able to break your limit and push yourself further than expected.”
As part of his training routine, Wong follows a thorough regimen. “Tennis is very dependent on your physical capabilities,” explains Wong, “Fitness training and cardio workouts are very important as a result.” Afterwards, Wong looks into the training drills that professional tennis players undertake and replicates them. “Not every drill may be right for you. Depending on your playing level, some may be too intensive to do regularly,” he notes.
He recalls a particularly rigorous drill before a competition where he and his hitting partner stood at the diagonally opposite corners of the service box, and had to hit volleys across the net – balls that are struck back at the opponent without first bouncing on the ground – repeatedly to each other while moving to the left. “Drills like these are still important to do regardless what level of player you are, but how often you need to do them really depends on whether you play recreationally or competitively at a high level.”
Hiring a tennis coach is a great way to get better at the sport, but Wong recommends also finding a hitting partner as well. “In Hong Kong, most coaches will critique and train you while also serving as your hitting partner. If you can find a hitting partner and have the coach watch you play instead, he or she can spot any mistakes you make much more easily.”
Hitting your mark
Deacon Ng, an assistant accountant at a sports company and an Institute member, developed a passion for tennis thanks to work. “My company dealt with tennis regularly, so I thought it would be good to get to know the sport more,” says Ng.
He quickly became addicted to the sport after picking it up in the summer of 2016. “Tennis is fun,” says Ng, “and it involves both physical and mental skills to play effectively.” Training can be tiresome and repetitive at times, he admits, pointing out the times when his strict coach makes him do a certain motion constantly to learn the correct sequence of movements. However, he notes, it’s a sport where devotion pays off.
Through immersion and repetition, players are able to develop better game sense and will pick up habitual reactions. For example, newer players often have trouble gauging the distance between their body and the ball before swinging. “Practise makes perfect. On top of just swinging at the ball, you need to have the proper training and playing experience first,” advises Ng. Doing so helps the player develop the right footwork and hitting postures, which makes timing swings under different circumstances more instinctive.
Ng finds doubles to be more fun because of the teamwork-based element involved. “Tennis is a social activity that can help you meet more friends,” explains Ng, “and if you play with friends who are more experienced than you, it’s a great way to get better.”
“Apart from learning tactics like how to return the ball, you can also learn from the pro players’ sportsmanship. Winning doesn’t seem to be their only objective.”
When he occasionally watches grand slam tournaments, Ng is fascinated by the attitudes carried forth by professional tennis players like Roger Federer. “Apart from learning tactics like how to return the ball, you can also learn from the pro players’ sportsmanship. Winning doesn’t seem to be their only objective, and from their expressions, you can see that they also really enjoy what goes on during the matches,” says Ng. In addition to the grand slams, Ng also enjoys attending the Women’s Tennis Association matches that are hosted in Hong Kong annually, and explains that watching it live helps him “get closer to the top tier tournament.”
When choosing the right equipment, Ng first recommends picking a tennis racket that is suited to your playing style and body type. “Racket weight, head size and length are all things you need to consider,” says Ng. For example, a heavy racket with a large head size allows for a stronger swing and a more forgiving surface area to receive off-centre hits, but becomes more tiring to use as the match progresses. On the other hand, a lighter racket with a small head size will give less powerful swings, but offers more control and is less strenuous on the user.
Given the importance of footwork, Ng also advises buying a pair of tennis shoes with thick soles and a strong grip. “Regular running shoes tend to have less grip and may cause you to slip on the court during a match,” says Ng.
“Also, don’t forget to wear a pair of shorts with plenty of pocket space for storing balls when training – you’ll spend less time running around picking up balls instead of playing. ◆
The longest tennis match ever held was at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. The match spanned across threedays and lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes before Isner finally clinched the win.